Last week I went to watch one of the co-founders of One Kings Lane, Susan Fallon, speak (or be interviewed, rather) by the founder of DocStoc. I've posted about One Kings Lane on here more times than I can count, so much so that I've even taken to referring to it as OKL - its commonly referenced acronym within the design world. This particular event however, was part of a series that is aimed at entrepreneurs and individuals interested in tech companies and their start-up journey. It was my first time attending one of these DocStoc entrepreneurial series events and frankly, I was shocked by the number of attendees (mostly of the gentlemen variety), who had no idea what One Kings Lane even was! They took a poll of the room and the numbers were, in my opinion, STAGGERING! (An outrage if you ask me!). The audience was comprised of about 70% men and 30% impeccably dressed women LOL. So for anyone that is reading this, and still has no idea what "OKL" is, it is a flash sale website/email subscription service that sells curated pieces of furniture at "discount" prices (the "discount price" part is debatable :). And now that we've created an even playing field among my readers on this topic, let's dig in!
One Kings Lane is a huge company and it continues to be on the upward slope in terms of growth. The company was founded in the Fall of 2008 and they launched in the Spring (April) of 2009 by Susan Feldman and Alison Pincus. For those of you not familiar with the tech start up timeline, that is fast! They were given advice by Ali Pincus' husband, Mark Pincus, the founder of Zynga (the online gaming site most known for FarmVille), that they should be the first to market in this niche as it was all about speed in this industry. So, they took the advice and ran. Around this time, flash sale sites were just starting to gain popularity and traction, with the godfather, Vente Privee taking the European market by storm and Gilt following shortly behind in the U.S. but the market still lacked a suitable home decor player in this space. Susan had recently moved from New York to Los Angeles and was struggling yet obsessed (I'm sure any design enthusiast can relate) with finding the perfect pieces to furnish her significantly larger home in LA. With few options online and frustrated with running all over the city from store to store to shop, this struggle combined with a newfound passion was what prompted her to create a solution for a larger scale and decide to start a business. Susan had a longstanding background in retail and merchandising and was intrigued with the flash sale model as it allowed for wholesale discounts which she was accustomed to seeing in retail but she recognized her need for a more technical co-founder. Shortly after this idea was planted, her husband met Lisa Stone, the co-founder of BlogHer, who put her in contact with Alison Pincus, who lived in San Francisco and had a background in business development, marketing and digital media.
The two were introduced "electronically" and after going back and forth for a few weeks over email and phone, decided to meet in person. Ali flew to LA where Susan met her at the airport and the two hit it off immediately. Susan remarked during the interview that she had had two successful blind dates in her life, one was her husband and the other was Ali. From that trip on, the two became a powerhouse team, talking on the phone for up eight hours a each day to each other via headset up until launch and even still to this day! They met periodically in San Luis Obispo, which was almost exactly halfway between San Fran and LA and even hired a team of programmers (who managed an outsourced team) to develop their site out of there as well.
The decided on the name One Kings Lane to signify a fictitious home address that felt both worldly and wealthy and was easy to spell. Plus, the domain name was available. They tested the name out on a "very famous and successful entrepreneur" (whose name she would not reveal), who said the name was terrible. He said it needed to be one word, short and not a word that currently existed. After much deliberation, they shunned this infamous mystery businessman's advice and went forth with their gut based on the feeling that they knew there customers and they wanted to feel like a warm boutique shop. Ali had just gotten married before they started and had loved the firm that designed her wedding invitations so they reached out to the same designer to see if she would design their logo. They liked the elephant with the trunk up because it signified good fortune and felt worldly and the plant gave the sense of a home. I approve, ladies!
At the time of launch they had 10 employees and marketed themselves as being in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York (the three locations where the original people worked from home LOL). They had a goal to launch their site and first flash sale via email to 5,000 people subscribers. They sought to reach this goal by contacting 100 of their most influential and well connected friends and asking them to go out to 100 influential people that they knew to spread the word. They were offering referral credits at the time, so each person who got another person to sign up would get a $25 credit to apply to their first purchase. At the moment of launch, when the first email was sent out, they had exactly 5,000 subscribers signed up. Additionally, they set up a giveaway contest for all of the people that had subscribed prior to launch, offering up an Hermes blanket as a prize to one VERY LUCKY winner. If you don't know (as many of the male attendees at the event did not), an Hermes blanket retails for about $1200 and ahem, is also at the tip-top of my wishlist. Hint hint :). Anyway, a winner was chosen from that first sale round and, though I don't know her, I kind of hate her. JK, kinda. The same day as the first sale, the late email newsletter publication, Daily Candy (R.I.P.) came out with an article on One Kings Lane and within one day, they were up to 25,000 subscribers! Talk about the power of PR, people!
Today, they have over 10 million subscribers, generated more than $200 million in revenue in 2012 and they aren't done yet! Their user statistics reveal that 90% of subscribers are women, down from 95% female users, last year. Men, what are you doing? Get with it! They started the company with their own funds (less than $100K) and ran a very lean operation until launch. They were profitable within their first year but still needed additional funding to grow and scale to where they are today. They currently have over 500 employees and still operate out of three separate offices, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York - with each office handling different, defined aspects of the business. However, they pride themselves on the fact that no one in the company has an assistant and are keen on maintaining control over their calendars, meetings and workload.
They are currently in the throes of launching and promoting their new site, Hunters Alley, a peer-to-peer online marketplace where anyone can buy or sell vintage, pre-owned home and lifestyle goods (WHICH..... Keeley Kraft has been featured on in the past ;). And, are constantly trying to expand their company offerings to grow their business and brand in new and exciting ways.
And now, for all of you budding entrepreneurs, here is some of the parting advice Susan gave at the end of her interview:
- Focus on your mission. It's easy to be tempted to try and provide everything to everyone but you will have better success if you keep your eye on your mission and unique proposition.
- Keep your site simple. If it's too complicated your customers will not invest the time.
- Fail fast.
- Hiring good people is KEY.
- Always be at the forefront of innovation. Copycats will pop up and you don't want them eating your lunch!
- Great photos can make a great difference
- Seek funding before you need it.
Lots of information I just threw at you, I know, but I always find it interesting to hear how companies that we engage with everyday, went from being nothing to something huge and how, so I wanted to share with you all as well! Hopefully you are as inspired as I was!